Hydroelectric
Operations

Nearly
4,000 MW
PG&E’s total hydro generating capacity, the nation’s largest privately owned hydroelectric system

PG&E owns and operates the nation’s largest investor-owned hydroelectric system—built along 16 river basins stretching nearly 500 miles—providing a safe, reliable and flexible source of clean energy for millions of customers. With California’s historically low levels of precipitation in 2013 and 2014, PG&E has been actively working to steward our hydroelectric operations in a responsible manner—strategically managing water supplies to optimize hydropower and the availability of water for downstream users’ needs.

Our Approach

PG&E’s hydroelectric system consists of 67 powerhouses, including a pumped storage facility, with a total generating capacity of almost 4,000 MW that relies on nearly 100 reservoirs. PG&E actively manages its hydroelectric system to ensure the safety of the public and our workforce, protect wildlife habitat and sensitive species, and maintain popular recreation opportunities for the communities we serve, including campgrounds, picnic areas, boat launches, trails, fishing and whitewater flows. Hydropower also enables us to better integrate wind and solar generation into the grid.

As California experiences one of the driest periods in more than 100 years of recordkeeping, PG&E is working closely with water agencies, first responders and regulatory agencies to help address drought impacts, including limited water deliveries, increased fire danger and environmental impacts.

Working Collaboratively

(Photo by James Green)

PG&E’s team of hydrographers measures the snowpack to estimate the spring runoff that ultimately will determine how much hydroelectricity PG&E can generate in the coming year.

PG&E’s hydroelectric system consists of 26 federally licensed projects. During the license renewal process, we have made it a priority to work collaboratively with stakeholders, such as federal and state agencies, local community members, environmental organizations, fishing interests and agricultural landholders. Together, we assess the impacts of these projects and work to reach agreement on appropriate resource management measures to include as conditions of the new licenses, such as fish and wildlife habitat protection and recreational opportunities.

Investing in Safety and Reliability

Many of PG&E’s dams and powerhouses have been in service for more than 75 years, and some of the water collection and transport systems date back to California’s gold mining years. We inspect and maintain our entire hydroelectric system according to strict safety guidelines, ensuring structural integrity under normal and extreme conditions. We also continue to make significant investments to repair and upgrade these water conveyance systems to ensure their ongoing safety and reliability.

In addition, we have engaged customers in a dam safety outreach campaign focused on populated areas immediately downstream from PG&E dams. For many years, we have also partnered with emergency agencies to develop Emergency Action Plans and regularly hold drills with local, state and federal emergency responders. Other public safety initiatives related to our hydro system include enhanced protection measures such as fencing near canals and improved signage.

PG&E launched a website that makes it easier to reserve campgrounds that the utility maintains near its hydroelectric system reservoirs. There are numerous campsites to choose from: Rocky Point Campground, at 4,500 feet elevation, offers breathtaking views of Lake Almanor, and the Upper Kings River Group Campground is near Lake Wishon at about 6,400 feet elevation in the Sierra National Forest.

2013 Milestones

During California’s drought, we are working closely with water agencies, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders to manage our hydroelectric resources in a responsible manner. For example, we recently participated in a forum to discuss the impacts of the California drought, and the science and strategies for addressing it.

(Photo by Gus Thomson/Auburn Journal)

PG&E completed an upgrade to a historically significant powerhouse, the 97-year-old Wise Powerhouse in Placer County.

As a key step, we have conserved water in our reservoirs so hydropower will be available during peak summer demand periods, and as much water as possible will be available to support environmental considerations and for agriculture and drinking water needs. To do so, we are actively collaborating with regulatory agencies and other stakeholders in individual regions. This includes adjusting water flows to support Butte Creek salmon during the drought.

We are also making investments in modernizing and upgrading our facilities to maintain supplies of low-cost carbon-free hydropower. In 2013, our work spanned many areas, including:

After a severe wind storm, PG&E completed repairs ahead of schedule in the South Yuba Canal, resuming water deliveries to the Nevada Irrigation District.

  • Crane Valley Dam. In Madera County, we added 300,000 cubic yards of rock to the existing dam to meet seismic requirements and increase public safety on the Crane Valley Dam at Bass Lake. The dam, which was built between 1902 and 1911, is now stronger and about six feet higher to provide an additional margin of safety. Throughout the two-year construction project, we worked closely with the local community to maintain public safety and recreational opportunities on the lake. We also restocked the lake with trout and planted 2,000 trees as part of a plan to replenish the 54-acre on-site quarry area with native vegetation.
  • McArthur Swamp. We improved 475 acres of wetland habitat in McArthur Swamp in northeastern Shasta County in cooperation with the California Waterfowl Association. The restoration work, which was done to meet the license conditions for PG&E’s Pit 1 hydroelectric project, included construction of a network of swales that distribute water to improve both wintering and nesting habitat for wildlife and waterfowl.

Measuring Progress

We continue to make progress in improving our license compliance, which we measure by tracking compliance with key environmental requirements. Using this approach, our compliance rate was 99.1 percent for 2013.

In addition, PG&E’s stewardship commitment includes working to manage our hydroelectric facilities in a manner that restores and enhances habitat for fish and other wildlife. Overall, these efforts yielded important environmental benefits in 2013:

Environmental Stewardship in Our Hydroelectric Operations—2013
Miles of stream monitored for environmental condition1 461
Acres of bird nesting territories monitored2 7,500
Acres monitored and/or treated for noxious weed control 2,821
Cubic yards of gravel added to streams to enhance fish spawning habitat 200
Acres monitored for use by special-status species3 3,226
  • 1 This measure refers to miles of stream monitored for its environmental condition, such as water quality/flow, sediment management, habitat quality, fish populations and invasive species.
  • 2 Includes monitoring of bald eagle and other nesting territories at PG&E hydroelectric projects.
  • 3 Special status species include those that are listed under the federal or state Endangered Species Acts or are otherwise given a specific designation by California or a federal resource or land management agency. Monitoring studies are required under various hydroelectric licenses.

Looking Ahead

With California’s reservoirs and snowpack remaining critically low, PG&E will continue to collaborate with regulators and other stakeholders to manage our resources in a way that lessens the drought’s impact on the environment and prolongs the availability of water for downstream users’ needs.

New PG&E Hydroelectric Exhibit

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County debuted an exhibit where children can learn how hydroelectric plants work and how PG&E uses this clean energy to power homes and businesses.

(Photo by David Kligman)

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